Carvings from the Arctic

Artifacts from the Jensen Arctic Museum
March 31- May 24, 2004

Arctic Exhibit

Carvings made by the peoples of the Alaskan Arctic region are descended from an ancient craft, honed for generations on the land. Most objects traditionally made were useful in very specific ways. A nomadic people could take little else with them besides the tools of their daily living. A few of these mobile objects were carved. Such things as delicate earrings, dance masks, amulets, fetish figures, intricate combs and labrets are often precious museum pieces today. In recent decades, they have turned these age-old skills towards producing larger works whose austere beauty has astonished the art world. This exhibit features carvings from the Jensen Arctic Museum's collection. Carvings on display were rendered in ivory, soapstone, serpentine, wood, and whalebone.

Functional Wood Carvings:
Traditionally, driftwood has been used in wood carving because few, if any large sources of wood grow in areas inhabited by arctic people.

Bone Art:
Native Arctic carvers find inspiration in the curving shapes and pitted textures of the bone, often inlaying the bone with ivory figures.

Artistic Wood Carvings:
Wood is thought to have magical properties. Inuit carvers have a special relationship with their materials, most still use small hand tools.

Stone Carving:
Stone was not used in traditional Arctic Art. Today artists make sculptures from soapstone, siltstone, argilites, quartz and marble.

Ivory Art - Cribbage Boards:
Creation of cribbage boards was originally aimed towards trade, often containing Western images to ensure better trade value.

Bone Art - Whalebone:
Weathered whalebone is found at sites once occupied by the ancient Thule people. They used whale ribs as roof spars on their sod homes.


Arctic Mask

Functional Wood Carvings

Functional Wood Carvings

Bone Art

Bone Art

Artistic Wood Carvings

Artistic Wood Carvings

Stone Carvings

Stone Carvings
Ivory Art-Cribbage Boards

Ivory Art - Cribbage Boards
Bone Art - Whalebone

Bone Art - Whalebone
Ivory Art

Ivory Art in the Arctic is obtained from the canines of walruses and from whales' teeth. It is used in both traditional and modern art. The Inuit population of about 25,000 is widely distributed across Canada and Alaska's north and each of the arctic-producing communities has developed its own favorite subjects and sculptural styles. From some of the Arctic islands, we see representations of wildlife, particularly birds and marine mamals. Generally naturalistic in style, they can be somewhat stylized, sharp-edged and angular in appearance, incised with minute detail.

Ivory Bears Ivory otter and walrus Ivory Walrus

LOCATION: 3rd floor gallery
Curator: Keni Sturgeon and Museology Students

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This page was modified February 26, 2008 jch/jlp.